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Mom stands up to bullies
Woman wants an Arizona law to address problem

TRIBUNE - Winter 2004

Brenda High wants a law against bullies.

High, a former Scottsdale woman, is organizing an Arizona chapter of the Bully Police USA today to fight for a state law that would force schools to address children who torment children.

“Basically, Arizona needs to set the rules for what's tolerable and what's not,” she said.

High knows it can be done. It was her testimony to Washington state legislators that was instrumental in the passage last year of an anti bullying law in that state, she said.

Her work may be an uphill climb in Arizona, where the state and schools battle with budgets that are bleeding red. Any mandated school legislation with a cost tied to it is likely to be greeted with hostility by educators, and, therefore ineffective, said Tom Horne, Arizona's superintendent of public instruction.

High, a 1971 graduate of Scottsdale High School, pushed an antibody law through the Washington Legislature by talking about her 13-year-old son, who committed suicide in 1998 after months of physical and verbal abuse.  She said her son's school in Pasco, Wash., knew of dozens of previous incidents with the bully, but had done nothing with him or for his victims.

She has since become an advocate for school yard victims, and has two Web sites devoted to the issue. One tells her son's story. The other collects information from other victims — kids being bullied, parents of kids being bullied and adults traumatized as children by bullies.  “There's an amazing amount of adults out there who are still suffering,” High said.

She believes legislation will make a difference. The law should establish policies on what constitutes bullying, and mandate that schools take steps to treat offenders and victims with the involvement of parents. School curricula should include programs such as those being implemented in Washington to promote empathy and respect, she said.  “It basically teaches them how to be kind to each other,” she said.

Horne said that while he would like to work with any group High organizes, he didn't think a legislative mandate was the answer. “We are getting schools to work with us voluntarily,” he said.

He said the Arizona Board of Education has two works in progress that would address bullying — one promoting character and another restoring classroom discipline. “You let children know what the expectations are, and one of these expectations is you treat people with respect,” Horne said.  There would be consequences to violating those expectations that could lead to expulsion, he said.

Becky Ladd, an assistant professor of psychology and education at Arizona State University, is studying the effects of school bullies in a project funded by the National Science Foundation. Ladd said she believes schools would welcome policies that define bullying, adding that school principals call her for direction in dealing with bullies. “They want to know what they can do. They are worried,” Ladd said.

But she questioned if programs effectively treat the harassment, especially if the results are expulsion and suspension. Children can go through empathic training and what she called an inoculation of sympathy, but typically revert to bully tactics.

Sen. Slade Mead, R-Ahwatukee Foothills, and a Kyrene Elementary School District governing board member, said schools there already have a strict policy against bullies. Repeat offenders can be suspended for up to 10 days, he said. As for statewide anti bully legislation, Mead said he would oppose an unfunded mandate to schools.  “That sounds good, but there's going to be a cost associated with it,” Mead said. “If you go school district to school district, I think we already have it.”

High said her son Jared was a normal, athletic and even popular sixth-grader before a group of older boys started picking on him. “It was serious enough that he started to change,” she said.

The youngest of her four children shifted from a mellow personality to easily agitated. “Then the day came when he was assaulted,” she said.

One teen a couple of years older and twice the weight of her son, beat and kicked Jared for about 10 minutes in an otherwise deserted school gym. Jared looked like he had been in a severe car crash, the physician who treated him told her. Jared then didn't sleep at night, didn't go out with the family and stopped socializing with friends.

“There just wasn't a happy bone in his body,” his mother said.

Before he killed himself, Jared refused to go to school. High said she called her husband that morning from her job to talk about doing something for their son, whose behavior was outside normal for even a moody teenager. Jared also called his father that morning. He said good-bye and shot himself while still on the phone.

For more information, go to:

Scottsdale Tribune
(480) 970-2324
Article by permission of Toni Laxson


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